In this article, we want to lay out our general Marxist argument that police cannot be reformed and instead must be abolished. In his book The End of Policing (2018) Alex Vitale shows that liberal attempts to reform police have all failed. These include attempts to increase “accountability” of police, diversity training, improving “police – community relations,” and use-of -force policies such as banning chokeholds. Under this “procedural justice” approach – the centerpiece of Obama-era reforms – police make a show of explaining their actions to the community, listening to community voices, and acting in a “procedurally correct” manner – making everyone “feel better” about policing. Yet these reforms have failed to stop police killings, abuse, and racist violence.
Written by Ahmed K & Florence O.
As Vitale explains, the real role of police in the US is simply to control poor and working class people, particularly those of Black and POC origin. It is not social justice, community empowerment, or even public safety. In fact, the existence of the police is in contradiction to these values. Since the police murder of Mike Brown in the summer of 2014, expensive liberal technocratic reforms have made no progress, and maybe were never meant to. According to Vitale, “after six years of attempted police reforms, we have nothing to show for it. Even if some of these reforms were capable of working in theory, police leaders refuse to properly implement them. The only leverage that remains is to starve the beast.”
Since the 1990s a movement for prison and police abolition has developed in the United States, with organizations such as Critical Resistance, Incite! and BYP100 among others, leading the way. In particular, scholar – activists such as Angela Davis and Ruth Wilson Gilmore have emerged as leading theorists and advocates for this new wave of abolitionism.
Here we begin by showing why liberal reforms are a dead end. Next we review pertinent arguments from the abolitionist current. The core idea of abolitionism, with which Marxists agree, is that you cannot isolate police violence from other forms of state violence, that to address the criminalization of communities we need to first address its root causes such as poverty, unemployment, lack of healthcare, and other material conditions, and that, therefore, abolition is part of a process of a deep social transformation. Abolitionists and Marxists, currents which are of course not mutually exclusive, agree that in order to abolish state forms of harm and repression, we need to adopt an anti-capitalist perspective. Third, we distinguish our strategy from the reformist current dominant in DSA, clarifying what our revolutionary Marxist position is versus, in our view, the fundamentally mistaken approach of the reformists. Unlike the strategy of the abolitionists, the reformists’ entire project is flawed. Finally, we present a Marxist strategy for abolition that, we argue, addresses some of the limitations of popular abolitionist strategies.
Liberal Police Reform
On Friday June 12th, 18 days after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police, the Minneapolis City Council passed a unanimous resolution “to create a transformative new model for cultivating safety in our city.” This was a few days after the mayor had publicly declared that he does not support the full abolition of police. We should note the absence of any “abolition” or “elimination” language in the city council’s resolution. Instead, the resolution created a “Future of Community Safety Work Group” composed of staff from other city departments, including the current police chief!
Two weeks later, the city government revealed how this process of “police abolition” will be carried out: through a ballot initiative in the November election! The measure now proposes to eliminate the Police Department as a charter department and replace it by a “new Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention,” which will give priority to “a holistic, public health-oriented approach.” The department would be overseen by a director, nominated by the mayor and approved by the City Council. Only individuals with “non-law enforcement experience in community safety services, including but not limited to public health and/or restorative justice approaches,” will be eligible to hold the post, according to the amendment.
However, the new proposal could include “licensed peace officers, though it would not be required to do so.” As the Star Tribune points out, “it’s unclear how many, if any, officers would continue to be employed by the city if the proposal passes.”
This is not the first attempt to reform the Minneapolis PD, not even in recent history. Minneapolis PD was part of an Obama-era pilot program of police reform initiated in 2015 to develop a new form of policing, focused on “racial reconciliation” and “building community trust.” Under this program – named “My Brother’s Keeper” by the Obama administration – MPD officers would wear body cameras, practice “mindfulness,” and undergo diversity and implicit bias training. The murderer of George Floyd himself had gone through this training, which included courses on “procedural justice” and “historical trauma.” As Vitale has shown, these milquetoast liberal reforms are a dead end, their only function is to salvage the image of the police in the eyes of the public.
Vitale has recently explained the importance of struggle over city budgets: “If you talk to people in policing and corrections and ask them if they had the option of working in a jail or, for the same pay and benefits, could work in a community center and coach football or mentor teenagers…the vast majority of them would much rather have that community job. But there are no such jobs like that.”
We should not be tricked by the attempts of the Minneapolis city council and other liberal initiatives promising to replace the police resulting from the mass popular pressure. They are attempts to deviate and deflect the movement, to simply replace the existing police by a “better” police force. Liberal solutions are technocratic and procedural: they try to make the current system more “racially sensitive” to build the community’s trust in it. But liberal ideology and reformism say nothing about the fact that it is poor, and in particular racialized sectors of the working class, who are the most subject to police violence and incarceration; about the fact that Blacks are 33 percent of the prison population as opposed to making up 12 percent of the general population (for Latinx, it is 23 percent as opposed to 16 percent). As an ideology of the capitalist class, liberalism is structurally unable to honestly or clearly identify the basic functions of racism and policing in capitalist society: the social control of poor, Black and brown people and workers. Liberal city governments and mayors, which have been busy gentrifying their cities and evicting and mass incarcerating workers and the poor for generations, have no interest and see only a threat in mass mobilizations from below, in particular ones led by Black, brown, and immigrant workers. We need to explain and expose what the local liberal and progressive elites are trying to do, which is to deflate the mobilizations.
The Abolitionist Movement’s Recent History and Theory
A recent article in The Nation offers a good summary of contemporary abolitionism. The movement’s general vision can be summarized in the Critical Resistance slogan, “we must build models today that can represent how we want to live in the future.” The movement openly embraces an anti-capitalist perspective, and anarchists are much more involved in its prefigurative projects.
A key historical moment in the history of both prison abolition and anarchism is the Walpole (Massachusetts) Prison Uprising of 1973. This occurred two years after the Attica Prison Uprising, which many consider the birth of the modern prisoners’ rights movement. Following the footsteps of their Attica comrades, Walpole prisoners created a union to demand protection from guards, abolition of behavioral modification programs, and to advocate for prisoners’ rights to education, healthcare, and visitation rights, as well as control over work assignments and the ability to send money to their families. The union succeeded in implementing a general truce in the prison, leading to a steep decline in race-related violence. When prison guards attempted to isolate Black prisoners during the Kwanzaa holiday, the union organized a three-month general strike, with prisoners refusing to leave their cells or to work. This pressured the prison superintendent into granting some of the union’s demands, which in turn triggered a strike by guards. The guards abandoned the prison, hoping that this would lead to chaos. Instead the prisoners organized a commune along anarchist lines, with decisions made by community assembly. The prisoners cooked their own meals, and prisoners who had been medics in the Vietnam War cared for their comrades’ healthcare. Recidivism dropped dramatically, murder and rape dropped to zero. This experiment in self-organization and mutual aid lasted two months and led many prison administrators and bureaucrats to quit and embrace the abolitionist movement. It showed that collective struggles from below can develop political consciousness and lead to personal transformation.
When working people take the matters of their own health and safety into their own hands, and organize in a democratic way to oppose institutions of violence and deal with the core issues at hand, they succeed. And what happened in Walpole, as what happened in the Paris Commune, is another example that our class has the means to tackle all social problems when it acts independently, democratically, and embraces a broad anti-oppression and anti-capitalist agenda. Yet we also need to reflect on the shortcomings of any stageist abolitionist strategy that disregards the need of an organized working class revolution to dismantle the state.
Strategies Towards Abolition
It was the Walpole Prison Uprising event among others, that showed not only the obsolescence of prisons, but exposed how contradictory they are to the goals of rehabilitation and safety. In 1976, a Quaker prison minister named Fay Honey Knopp and a group of activists published the booklet “Instead of Prisons: A Handbook for Abolitionists.” The pamphlet outlined three main goals which are still considered the foundations of abolitionism: to establish a moratorium on all new prison building, to decarcerate those currently in prison, and to “excarcerate” — i.e., to move away from criminalization and from the use of incarceration altogether. The more recent iterations of abolitionism, such as Critical Resistance and Incite!, formed in the 1990s, and the Movement for Black Lives, are largely in continuity with these themes.
While some in the movement have connected incarceration and policing to the capitalist mode of production, activists have also – and arguably more often and more consistently – connected incarceration to ethico-moral principles. For example, Angela Davis highlights the issues of harm and dehumanization that are inherent to incarceration. Imprisonment and racist policing dehumanize the imprisoned and policed because it reproduces the conditions that lead to imprisonment in the first place – violence, harm, diminished life chances. She adds that even if we significantly reduce the prison population, keeping the prison complex in place would still isolate, dehumanize, and commit violence on the imprisoned.
The movement has also clearly connected abolition to the larger project of social transformation, to addressing root causes of poverty, meeting people’s economic, social, and physical and mental health needs, and have been clear in asserting that deprivation of these resources are the root cause of the conflicts to which incarceration is a false solution. Rather than adopting a specific organizational model or attempting to formulate a unitary strategy or theory, abolitionists have tended to describe themselves as “shar(ing) an idea – a vision – more than a structure”: a future where people’s needs are met, making prisons obsolete.
The “three pillars of abolitionism” first outlined by Knopp in 1976 are still central to the movement: moratorium, decarceration, excarceration. A moratorium on prisons and incarceration means that existing society “stop building cages,” that “fewer prison beds means fewer prisoners.” Under decarceration abolitionists try to get people currently in prison out of prison. This part of the abolitionist program emphasizes releasing from prison those who “pose no threat to society” along with the creation of a review process to reevaluate sentences and advocating for the release of those imprisoned for petty crimes especially in states with “three-strikes” laws. The pillar of excarceration is billed as the most transformative. Here, abolitionists organize to divert people away from imprisonment, and for decriminalization more broadly – for example of drug use, homelessness, and mental health episodes – combined with increasing funding for mental health services, housing, and drug rehab. Vitale has cited “housing-first initiatives” for the unhoused as an example of excarceration.
There is also a consciousness-raising/educative component to abolitionist work: changing common sense ideas about “crime.” This involves, crucially, teaching people how to respond to damage or harm not by resorting to punishment or “encaging” but through restorative justice practices. As one abolitionist academic puts it, “the moment you go to the state, the conflict no longer is your conflict—the state appropriates it.” Abolitionists advocate for concrete alternatives to punishment such as offering food and housing coops and affordable and healthy means to survive and live.
In response to cases of major harm – murder, rape, etc. – abolitionism advocates restorative justice and transformative justice paradigms, which replace individual interrogation and punishment with collective interrogation and rehabilitation. These processes have been practiced by some indigenous cultures for a long time. The Jewish tradition of Teshuva or “atonement” and the aftermath of the Guatemalan Civil War, in which truth and reconciliation and reparations to victims were prominent, have also been cited as models. According to abolitionists, restorative – transformative justice models have a number of advantages over punitive-individualistic approaches. They focus on restoring the victim and the community but also the offender to the way they were before committing the harm they have committed. Going beyond restorative justice, transformative justice asks the offender what in their life led them to commit the transgression, and asks the community, what “can we all do to change those conditions?” Vitale explains that restorative-transformative justice models are better than individualized models at highlighting structural sources of harm and violence.
The current abolitionist organizations do not claim that police can be abolished tomorrow. As Ruth Wilson Gilmore has stated, “it’s obvious that the system won’t disappear overnight… no abolitionist thinks that will be the case.” What abolitionists propose is to support the kinds of initiatives that will progressively weaken the material resources going to those state institutions of repression, and to build alternatives to them. Today’s abolitionist strategy to reach the end of prisons and police is a progressive redistribution defunding-refunding struggle from below that will reallocate resources where they are most needed to address the social problems capitalism creates. As Gilmore argues, “so many public agencies — education, healthcare, and so forth — have absorbed policing functions. Where, at the same time, many of the agencies of organized violence, such as jails and prisons and police, are absorbing social work functions, mental health care functions, things that they actually can’t do.” Similarly, in a recent article on Portside, Tori Hong explained that “we’re talking about a gradual process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community-based models of safety, support, and prevention…shifting money away from the police and toward services that actually meet those needs, we’ll be able to get to a place where people won’t need to rob banks.”
The BLM movement is heavily focused on the police, on targeting the police institution as their main enemy, with the most radical sectors today demanding their total abolition. There is no homogenous understanding of the meaning of police abolition, but there is, among those who support the demand, the idea that that will be the beginning of, or part of, rethinking our society entirely, and of the need to overcome the capitalist society and build another society anew, free of violence, oppression, and exploitation. This is as we noted a very progressive dimension because the dynamics of this movement point towards the separation of a sector of the class from the state and its institutions.
As Marxists we reiterate our full agreement with the goals of abolitionist movement, in particular on abolishing state forms of harm and repression and on adopting an anti-capitalist perspective, as well as on the struggle for reforms to reallocate funds away from incarceration and repression toward social needs of education, healthcare, housing, and other means of survival and life. We believe, however, that today’s strategic debates in the abolitionist and growing anti-racist movement are of chief importance: how can we really abolish police? We would like to differentiate the Marxist strategy from different trends of reformism present in our struggle.
The Reformist Current within DSA
Before outlining our revolutionary Marxist strategy, we should clearly distinguish our approach from the social democratic or reformist wing of the socialist movement, currently organized within DSA and dominant in that organization. This current sees racism as “secondary” to “economics.” Concretely, this means that social democrats, prominently featured in journals like Catalyst, Nonsite, and Jacobin, focus on “universal” demands that can “unite” the class – such as Medicare for All and full employment – as opposed to “specific” demands by specific groups, which they position as “divisive.” Our revolutionary Marxist strategy should in no way be confused with social democratic – reformism, which in its most reactionary form actually advocates for employing more police and improving their working conditions.
DSA’s Dustin Guastella expresses the social democratic perspective most clearly and bluntly. With more sophisticated thinkers on this issue he has no fundamental disagreements and we take his thinking to express the basic tenets of the reformism dominant in the DSA. According to him, defunding and cutting the number of police officers is one of the “worst” solutions to violent policing. There are three parts to his argument.
First, he writes that only “class” – or rather, in his conceptualization of it, wealth or lack thereof – not racism, accounts for police murders. “While it no longer surprises people to learn that black Americans are 24% of the total victims of police murder, it might surprise many that they also make up 23% of the total population living under the poverty line in this country. And while white Americans make up around 41% of the poor, they actually account for 46% of the victims of police killings. The takeaway here is that the racial breakdown of those killed by the police almost exactly matches the racial demography of the poor.” But he never explains why Blacks are overrepresented (by at least 10 percent in comparison to their proportion in the general population) among the poor, while the rate of whites among the poor is significantly lower than that of whites in the general population (ca. 72 percent of Americans identify as “white,” and around 60 percent identity as “non-hispanic white”).
Second, Guastella, like Sanders, asserts that if we really want to reduce the harm caused by police we need to improve their pay and working conditions: “everyone acknowledges that medical professionals—nurses, surgeons, and EMT’s—are more likely to make life threatening mistakes when they are overworked, though no one would advocate cutting hospital budgets as a solution to fatigue.” According to him, police’s role like EMTS, nurses’ etc. is serving the communities they work in. The real role of police by this logic is that they provide an important social service, public safety, and socialists should approach them as we would any other providers of public services, through increasing state funding for their improved functioning.
Third, Guastella sees calls to defund the police and reallocate funds to social needs, on the one side, and calls for taxing the wealthy and redistribution to social needs, on the other, as a zero sum game. “Instead of demanding that the federal government tax the wealthy and their corporations to fund public goods and eliminate joblessness, activists seem to believe that city governments have no choice but to rob Peter to pay Paul […] without addressing poverty and unemployment, the human costs of removing the police would be staggering.”
We should first note, with respect to the last point in particular, that its logic is simply bizarre. Literally no one that we know of in the abolitionist movement doesn’t simultaneously agitate for abolition/defunding and the exact same redistributive reforms that Guastella says we should “really” be calling for! In fact, abolitionists and the Movement 4 Black Lives, have offered a program for provision for social and human needs that is more robust than anything that appears in Jacobin or Nonsite.
In short, Guastella’s argument boils down to: police harm Blacks and whites at rates roughly equal to the proportions that each group makes up among the poor, and do so because of austerity policies, not racism; socialists should not “waste time” on antiracist organizing and instead should focus on agitating for a more robust welfare state. In fact, antiracism and anti-austerity cancel each other out. Police, by this logic, like nurses and doctors, provide necessary social services. Hence the demand that they be included in anti-austerity policies.
As Kim Moody explains, this is ahistorical and naive. He reminds us that the police’s role is social control not public safety. And that social control has everything to do with both race and class. Since the post-WWII migration of Black workers to the urban north and the creation, because of policies of segregation, of Black ghettos, the arrests of Blacks have far outnumbered those of whites and have done so consistently. Black people have accounted for between 25 and 31 percent of those arrested during every decade between the 1950s and the present day. In the United States, police’s origins, as is well-known, go back to the slave patrols of the rural South and worker-strike breakers of the industrial North. This is the historical background to the development of professional policing in the mid-19th century, which focused almost exclusively on “street crimes” committed in proletarian and racialized geographic areas as opposed to so-called white collar crimes.
This bias became intensified with the emergence of modern “crime mapping.” Crime mapping’s roots also go back to the mid-19th century, but its modern iteration comes from the 1930s, when the University of Chicago’s sociology department (known as the Chicago School) began adding a (pseudo)scientific aura of sociological method to crime mapping. Chicago School crime mapping, writes Moody, was explicitly racial and class-elitist, claiming to find links between “delinquency” and both the “economic status” and “racial composition” of a neighborhood. This was translated by police departments into their cartographic category of “high crime areas.”
One of the basic flaws of “race-blind” social democracy is that it pays too little attention to the role of segregation in poverty. With white flight after WWII, American urban centers became defunded at the same time that they became increasingly Black and Latinx. A look at the geography of poverty shows that white and Black/POC poverty are actually treated by the state in different ways. Blacks and Latinx people came to live in greater concentrations of poverty than whites: inner-cities and inner-ring suburbs, Ferguson, Missouri being an example of the latter. These were geographic areas that were deliberately defunded of tax revenues (for example, through white flight), and, as mentioned, mapped as “problematic” in the sense of being stereotyped as more prone to criminality. White flight, redlining, and de facto racist discrimination in real estate and banking were central in the production of “high poverty areas,” where four out of ten residents live under the poverty line. These areas are primarily Black and Latinx, and are the most subjected to drug busts, stop and frisk, racial profiling, etc. In 2015, Moody explains, whereas 20 percent of poor whites lived in high poverty areas, over half of poor Blacks and 38 percent of poor Latinx did. Since 2000, the development of probability-based GIS technologies not only mapped “high crime” areas but “predicted” where crimes will occur – racial profiling abstracted to the level of neighborhood and city.
As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor shows in her new book Race for Profit (2020), even though legal segregation through redlining and housing discrimination ended in the 1970s as a result of the Black uprisings in the mid-late 1960s, de facto segregation continues to exist. Segregation was transmuted into what Taylor calls the “predatory inclusion” of the real estate and finance sectors. These took advantage of new policies to end discrimination in housing lending to target, in particular, poor Black women who were more likely to default on their loans. By the end of the 1970s, the first programs to encourage Black homeownership in the United States ended in tens of thousands of foreclosures. This predation created massive new profits for finance capital. Racial profiling and plunder ignited the neoliberal stage of US capitalism. This can be seen as a perfect example of what some have called racial capitalism.
A Marxist Strategy Towards Abolition
Marxists struggle for police abolition as part of a broad strategy to dismantle the bourgeois state that oppresses our class, in particular racialized sectors of our class. Yet the key debate in the movement today is how to achieve our goals: we argue that we need to put all our energies into developing and escalating mass actions, that is in deepening our social struggle, rather than trying to build today institutions and practices that can replace policing and redress the harm done by capitalist society. We are not opposed to starting to develop today alternatives to policing, quite the opposite. We do participate in them actively, but the center of gravity of our strategy is to build a mass working class movement, an independent one that promotes the leadership of Black and Latino youth.
We are opposed to all attempts to deviate or co-opt the ongoing rebellion against police violence into failed liberal reform or an electoral strategy that would disenfranchise the tens of thousands of activists who have shown true leadership in the streets.
A growing current of abolitionism is developing an anti-capitalist perspective, with which we obviously agree. Yet some voices in the abolitionist movement, such as Davis, while embracing anti-capitalism in principle, focus in practice on redistributive reforms and restorative practices. Approached this way, abolitionist tactics become isolated from a clear strategy to dismantle capitalism and build independent workers’ power. Lacking clear strategy of building an independent movement of struggle of working people and the oppressed, Davis focuses on building new post-capitalist and “post-racial” institutions today. In turn, she shows a preference for less repressive and ideologically conservative governments, identified with the Democratic Party, as well as a “pragmatic” approach in relation to the question of political independence. This can be seen in Davis’s recent comment in an interview with Democracy Now: “In our electoral system as it exists, neither party represents the future that we need in this country. Both parties remain connected to corporate capitalism. But the election will not so much be about who gets to lead the country to a better future, but rather how we can support ourselves and our own ability to continue to organize and place pressure on those in power. And I don’t think there’s a question about which candidate would allow that process to unfold.”
By contrast, we agree with abolitionists such as Gilmore and Vitale, who are much clearer on the necessity of political independence from all capitalist parties, and emphasize the need to constantly educate on and point out the social and material origins of violence, crime, and oppression: the capitalist system and the bourgeois state. Until these are destroyed, our class will be constantly outmatched by the amount of violence and subjugation at the command of the capitalist state. This is why our solution is class struggle and revolution. We don’t believe that abolition can be accomplished by progressive steps. This does not mean that we don’t fight here and now for reforms that address the basic needs of our class. While we agree with the abolitionist movement that we need to fight to defund the apparatuses of state violence and reallocate those funds to social needs, we constantly intervene and educate on the inability and hostility of capitalism to the meeting of these needs and the need for workers power, a workers’ state, and communism as the lasting solutions to violence and oppression.
With specific reference to the need for abolition, the focus of our strategy to abolish the police is not focus on building today comprehensive alternatives to replace the police. We do not believe we can build effective class institutions to replace the police and the prisons on all occasions under capitalism. We demand on some occasions for those who do terrible harm to our class to go to jail: policemen who kill Black and Brown youth or workers on strike, millionaires who defraud the public of money, corporate leaders who are guilty of labor violations or environmental crimes, corrupt public administrators, serial rapists, soldiers who have tortured etc. Our class is not ready at this point to solve and mend all the deep social problems and forms of violence that are fueled by capitalist society. So we work on two parallel tracks: while we actively build the capacity of our class to live in a police and prison free society, we do not make the question of opposing any use of police or prisons under capitalism a matter of moral principle.
Thus when we say the we support abolishing the police, we need to explain what we mean by that to the class, that we mean suppressing the need for a separate organization of armed people to solve our problems, because we as a class can address these problems, and that we need to fight to address first and foremost the social/material roots of “crime and violence”. Total abolition will only be possible with a working class revolution, mostly because it is impossible for our class to address today the totality of the forms of violence, poverty, and oppression that surround us while keeping intact the social and economic system that produces them. While the center of our strategy is to struggle to build a mass movement that can accomplish this, we believe we need to continue educating our class in clear anti-racist and anti-sexist principles and prepare our class for self government. This implies developing at all times mass action and the independent organization of our class, building the confidence of our class that it it can address many of its problems with its own means and methods, increasing our class’s anti-racist and anti-sexist consciousness and practices, and developing from within our means, the capacity of our class to decrease its reliance on police and the courts.
Another area where Marxists distinguish themselves from some abolitionist approaches relates to the issue of organization. Organizationally, abolitionists such as Vitale and others (see above), focus on “changing the narrative,” enacting curiosity – for example about one’s relationship to policing, one’s privilege – and “changing cultural attitudes.” Abolitionism’s strategy – as exemplified by Critical Resistance – is non-hierarchical, pluralistic/pragmatic in terms of solutions, focusing on educating around an “alternative way of thinking about society.” One abolitionist describes this as “slow and steady,” as about “chipping away” at oppressive institutions. This is similar to what Gramsci would identify as a “war of position” disconnected from a strategy for “war of manoeuvre.” The obvious analogy that abolitionist activists make is to the abolitionist movement of the mid-19th century. But this raises a question about the difference between the two movements. The abolition of slavery did not come through a “war of position” as currently conceived, disconnected from a revolutionary strategy of changing the social mode of production. It came through the destruction through total war of the slave economy. That was not the incremental change or politics-as-consciousness-raising as currently envisioned by many of today’s abolitionists.There is no question of whether we should develop the class/anti-racist consciousness of our class. The question is how to do it. In our view the best engine of politicization is the development of mass struggle, which unveils the deep contradictions in our society, our allies and enemies, and forces everyone to take a stand.
The question of organization has to be approached with care. In order to succeed, the existing movement against racist police violence needs to develop independent and democratic organizational forms that would enable the active participation of all the Black, Latino and white youth fighting in the streets in deciding a common program for action and the next steps for the protests. We have seen the virtues but also the limitations of spontaneous Facebook organizing. A movement that does not engage in the questions of organization has very limited capacity for action and eventually gets absorbed into the capitalist state.
Drawing on our Marxist historical experience, we know that mass movements without the revolutionary leadership of a “vanguard” of the most conscious workers end up defeated by the capitalist class. By “vanguard” we don’t mean a self-appointed leadership bringing socialism to mass movements. We refer to the workers themselves, in movement and in struggle against the capitalist class, a struggle through which are drawn clearer conclusions about the need for socialist revolution. This is particularly important today, with the approach of elections, the push to leave the streets and strikes for the ballot box, and the pressure for social movements to endorse Biden, a candidate who opposes the defunding of police as well as the social provisions called for by abolitionists and Marxists alike. The Black-led uprisings of summer 2020 have already played a major role in radicalizing workers and youth of many backgrounds and have put police abolition and anticapitalism on the agenda. We wholeheartedly support the rebellions, and we offer this article in a spirit of comradeship and debate. Onward with the rebellions and forward to the triumph of the working class and oppressed!